Peter Hockenhull is the driving force behind Shade Oak Stud in Shropshire, the National Hunt operation established in 1973 by his father David, who sadly died last month. Having graduated with a degree in engineering, the lure of horses proved too strong for Peter, who with wife Emma has continued to build on the success achieved with former stalwarts Gunner B and Alflora. The current roster, which is supported by around 30 of Shade Oak’s own broodmares, features sons of stallion legends Galileo, Dubawi and Frankel in Telescope, Dartmouth and Logician, the last-named one of the most exciting recruits to the jumps sires’ ranks in recent years and whose first foals are eagerly anticipated in early 2023.
When I came home from university aged 21, I was mucking out and doing other things on the stud. It was a family business started by my dad, who seized upon the fact I’d been to university and said, ‘You’re supposed to be the clever one, why don’t you get on with it then?’ In that way he handed over the reins to me quite quickly and I was tasked with financing our next stallion.
Two stallions stand out during my time here. There’s Gunner B, who was only bought as a fill-in. We desperately wanted to buy a horse called Rakaposhi King but he wasn’t available, so we sourced Gunner B. Then Rakaposhi came up and we bought him. Gunner B gets here and suddenly lands the Champion Hurdle with Royal Gait. From a small-time National Hunt stud used mainly by point-to-point breeders, he helped thrust Shade Oak into the limelight and introduced us to so many more clients. He was 16 when we got him from Germany; we thought if he did a couple of years it would be brilliant.
Gunner B was still covering aged 29. His progeny had great heart and were as tough as nails. I owe an awful lot to him and of course so much of what he did was already laid down when he arrived. Gunner B really paved the way for Alflora. With him we had to do it from scratch. It was also during the time that interest rates were about 15%, which was very stressful and meant financially we were on the edge.
The overriding thing with stallions is firstly their performance and secondly their sire. Those two factors weigh heavily. It’s no mistake that we have a Dubawi, a Galileo and a Frankel. I’m missing one for the full set – to stand a son of Sea The Stars would be very nice!
Frankel’s up to £275,000 now – I stand his Classic-winning son at £4,000. In your mind’s eye you know what you want from a stallion, and I want to have horses that look exactly like Logician. You want an athletic sire that can really stride out and has great fluidity about his movement. You also want a sire to have a bit of size, lovely conformation, and a deep chest. It’s hard to find what he doesn’t have to offer.
You must look at what the other countries are doing to succeed in this industry. France has been very active in developing their National Hunt horses from a young age. You can look at the stallions and broodmare band, but it’s pretty evident there’s nothing really that much different [from Britain]. Their success rather comes down to how they bring their horses through. Ireland cottoned on to that and they develop horses through the point-to-point scene. What can we do over here? We don’t have the same structure so the introduction of these development races [Junior NH Hurdles for three- and four-year-olds] is a positive thing. If we don’t do something we’ll be left even further behind.
I’m not a fan of bumpers and don’t feel they have been a great friend to NH breeding. I think at the last Cheltenham Festival only one of the Grade 1 winners started their career in a bumper. Black type for bumper races? We’re either trying to breed jumpers or we’re not and if we are, surely it makes sense to get them jumping as early as possible.
At our busiest we’ve covered almost 400 mares. Last season Logician covered 183 – in terms of my owner base, it pretty well went berserk! Mare owners like to experiment with something new and exciting; Logician ticked that box and his timing was perfect, as there wasn’t a plethora of Group 1 winners retiring to stud.
If we didn’t have the Elite Mares Scheme then I wouldn’t have bought Logician. The success of a stallion is largely determined by the mares you attract. If you can cover those elite mares, it does give you an opportunity which in so many years was denied when the best mares went to Ireland. My ultimate dream would be to have the leading sire – it’s an outside shot but it is possible. The Elite Mares Scheme (see TBA Forum, page 88) is one of those factors that is just tipping things back towards us, as is the Great British Bonus and the hugely improved mares’ programme.
This business is all-encompassing – when you get to the end of the stud season you’re absolutely shattered. There are no weekends off and from the moment you kick into the season, it just loads and loads until you think you’re going to break. But it’s amazing what happens when you get round to January. The thought of Logician’s first foals – I’ll be racing down to the foaling unit as soon as I get the call! That is still the biggest thrill of all and if I lose that feeling then I’ll get out.